Not a lot of things went as per plan in 2018 for me. Thankfully, keeping up my reading habit did not fall into that category for me. I mean, I LOVE reading books, you guys. It’s not always the most intellectual stuff but it’s my favourite form of escape and entertainment, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.
I didn’t have a set number of books that I wanted to read in the year, but 40 books in a year is not bad, I’d think! Of course, it’s nothing like Grace’s 81 books in a year or Viktoria’s 52 books, but it’s probably the most number of books that I’ve read in a single year in recent times.
As far as 2019 in concerned, while I am not setting a particular number books to read challenge, I am keen to bring about the following changes in my reading habits for sure:
- Read more non-American authors – Most of my reading is skewed towards American authors, which is not an issue in itself, but I think if I am being intentional about my reading habit, I definitely need to introduce more diversity in the kind of fiction/non-fiction that I read.
- Read more non-fiction/literary fiction – In the name of diversity and making reading a little more intellectually stimulating, I am committing to read at least 5 non-fiction books, and 10 literary fiction books in 2019.
- Finish reading the books that I already own – Please tell me I am not the only book lover who has a never ending pile of to-be-read books only to purchase even more books!!! Seriously though, I think I have about 26,383 unread books between my Kindle and my book drawer and my shelf of books. 2019 is going to be the year I make a serious dent in that number. Oh, and I am not allowing myself to buy anything new till I am done with this current lot of books (and fingers crossed that this time I actually stick with this resolution! :).
Anyway, getting on with the whole list of books from 2018. I’ll start off with my favourites, and then just do quick summaries of the rest.
FAVOURITES IN FICTION
1| Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T Lee (Kindle) – This was one of the most heartbreaking reads last year. Miranda and Lucia are two sisters; Miranda – the strong, stable, responsible elder sister, and Lucia – the headstrong, impetuous younger one. Lucia gradually starts suffering from mental illness, and time and again, it comes down to Miranda to find ways to reach out to her younger sister and save her.
At the heart of it, the story is about the bond between two sisters and the lengths that you will go to for family and for love. It seemed like an honest portrayal of mental illness and the effect that it has not only on the person suffering, but also the persons around. I loved the strong characters, and the love story between Lucia and Yonah is so sublimely captured. It’s a beautiful, but sad story, and one I’d highly recommend.
2| The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne (Kindle) – This was a such a glorious (yet sad) book to read. Starting out in Ireland in the 1940s, it’s the story of Cyril Avery right from the time he’s in his mother’s womb till his old age. He is born to a teenager out of wedlock, and then adopted by a couple who, while certainly not evil, seem incapable of showing the young boy any love or affection.
Cyril, who knows he gay, grows up in ultraconservative and religious Ireland, where being gay is a crime of devastating consequences. The novel follows his journey, as he tries to find a way to live with his secret in a society where people like him are viewed as outsiders, or worse still, deviants. He falls in love, has his heart broken, and then falls in love again. Through the course of it all, Ireland remains a key character, and its evolution from a Church-run conservative society to one that accepts gay marriages after a referendum in 2015 is well woven into the story of Cyrilâ€™s life and love.
There is an undercurrent of dark humour throughout the story, and at times it feels like a respite from the overall anguish and undeniable sadness that mark Cyrilâ€™s story. Itâ€™s a hefty read, but easy to get into, and I was completely drawn into Cyrilâ€™s world and did not want the story to end.
3| A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza (Kindle) – I am not an American-Indian and yet, this book was just so relatable. The family dynamics, the relationships, the nuances, all so Indian, so relatable, that it somehow didn’t matter that the story was set in America. That’s not to say that America does not play a role, and of course 9/11 has a bearing, but the story of familial love and longing is somehow universal.
It’s a story about a Muslim Indian-American family of five, and how each of them struggles to find themselves and stay true to their religion and its teachings. It’s about alternating sibling love and rivalry and about calling out parents for biased and prejudiced actions. It’s about the suffocation under rules and rituals that makes a house not feel like home. It’s about acknowledging that families aren’t perfect, and yet without them, we would be quite unrooted. It’s about the ties that bind, the relationships that hurt us, and the love that grounds us. And lastly, it’s about forgiveness and finding your way to each other through the hurt and the darkness.
This story has a place in my heart, and I am just amazed that this was Fatima’s first novel. Oh, what a delight it will be to discover more of her stories.
4| Love and Other Words by Christina Lauren (Kindle) – I think Christina & Lauren have the whole young love/romance genre down pat. This was their second book that I read and I think it’s quite possibly my favourite out of the three books of theirs that I have read. The story alternates between Macy & Elliot’s teenage years and present. When they met as teenagers, they quickly go on to become best friends, sharing stories and favourite words, who go on to fall in love, until one heartbreaking day after which they don’t meet until a chance encounter nearly a decade later. They slowly pick up the pieces again and then it becomes about whether they can heal from their past hurts and heartbreak and find love again.
I absolutely loved the storytelling, especially of teenage Macy & Elliot’s friendship and romance. These are two adorable characters and have been written with so much depth, that even the predictable aspects of the story become sweet, and yet not cloying. Their story develops slowly, and while you know how it is going to turn out, the build-up has you invested, and I was racing through to find out what the mystery event was that tore them apart. Anyway, all in all, beautifully told romance, and they totally had me enthralled.
The atmosphere build-up in this story is phenomenal and Alaska & it’s barren, rugged, hard landscape becomes almost like a key character in the story. The Allbright family moves in to a remote town in Alaska after Ernt, the father, returns from Vietnam and has difficulty adjusting back to routine life. The story follows how Ernt, his wife, Cora, and their teenaged daughter, Leni make their “home” in Kaneq, Alaska, and the relationships that they forge in that close-knit town. As new relationships are built, old ones get strained and perhaps, seen for what they really are. There is abuse, death, and above all, love, that is rampant in the story.
What I didn’t like about the story was how the last quarter was paced – from the slow, languid build-up, the pace just accelerates and how! Too many plotlines get introduced in the last few chapters, and it all just seems to be racing towards a convenient end. Despite that shoddy ending, I really did enjoy the overall book though!
FAVOURITES IN NON-FICTION
1| The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande (Kindle) – This is the only biography/autobiography I read all year and am glad that I picked a really powerful one at that. I was looking to read something on Mexico before our vacation there last summer and chanced upon this one.
While obviously Mexico certainly plays a central role in this memoir, it is at its core, an immigration tale and a tale about how family ties shape our future. Reyna’s parents cross over illegally from Mexico to the US, while leaving Reyna and her siblings with an abusive grandmother. Eventually, Reyna and her siblings run across the border as well, but the scars of being left behind follow her well into adulthood. She paints an effective picture of her struggles with accepting their new lives in Los Angeles and how she goes on to become the first person from her family to graduate from college.
I liked that she doesn’t really seem intent on invoking pity at her struggles or playing up her difficult childhood. I loved her honest insight into her life and her story further made me aware that we often don’t know about the struggles that others go through and how easy it is to assume stereotypes and be influenced by biases of society.
1| The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang (Kindle) – I really enjoyed reading this one. A somewhat unconventional pairing (sheâ€™s a math nerd with Aspergerâ€™s and heâ€™s an escort by night, family laundry business manager by day), this love story is utterly sweet, even if predictable. Stella needs a lot of practice in the kissing/romance department, so she comes up with the plan to hire Michael, an escort, to teach her the ways. In the process, she ends up learning a lot more, definitely about love and also about herself. Cute, and hot!
2| The House Swap by Rebecca Fleet (Kindle) – Most times that I pick up these female-centric thriller reads, I almost always end up disappointed. This one was mostly okay though, and I raced through it during our holiday in Mexico last year. Caroline agrees to to a swap house, and strangely, starts finding pieces of her life in the house which she has moved into for a week. For the most part, the book handles the relationships and strained marriage aspect rather well, but the ending (and unraveling of the mystery) does feel a bit rushed.
3| The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger (Kindle) – Iâ€™d seen the movie ages ago but never got around to reading the book before. So obviously I knew the story, and didnâ€™t go in expecting to have my mind blown or anything. I think this would be one of the few books for which I felt that the movie was way better made.
4| Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton (Kindle) – A really fascinating read, and one that I picked up on Graceâ€™s recommendation. The book really makes Cuba’s history through the Cuban Revolution come alive without coming across as a heavy history textbook. Marisol arrives in Havana for the first time in 2017 to scatter the ashes of her beloved grandmother, Elisa, who was forced to flee the country along with her family during the revolution. In Havana, Marisol discovers more about her family’s history and begins to find her own way too. Highly recommend this one.
5| Every Breath by Nicholas Sparks (Kindle) – Note to self: stop reading Nicholas Sparks books. They were sweet(ish) 15 years ago, but now just seem formulaic, same-old same-old, trying-too-hard-to-make-your-cry kinda stories. I’d avoid this one, if I were you.
6| Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win by Jo Piazza (Kindle) – This was an enjoyable, topical read about a woman who gives up life as she knows it and uproots her family to a small town to run for Congress. It was well-layered and came across as more than just a hot take on a current topic of interest. The story also deals with the fallout of infidelity in a very nuanced way. And the ending… well, I’ll let you get to it. :)
7| Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (Kindle) – This book was mostly enjoyable, even though I didnâ€™t quite love it. Somewhat in keeping with the central characterâ€™s tendencies, the whole writing seemed a little aloof to me. Maybe that was intentional, idk. I liked it for opening up an unconventional world (that of a 36-year-old, unmarried woman, working part time in a convenience store in Japan) and for delving deeper into societyâ€™s ingrained notions of what a proper woman looks like (working woman or not, a 36-year-old woman seemingly has no business being unmarried almost anywhere in the world!) without much judgment.
8| My Favourite Half-Night Stand by Christina Lauren (Kindle) – The second Christina Lauren novel that I read this year. Millie Morris is the proverbial â€œone of the guysâ€ kinda girl, and she ends up sleeping with her best friend, Reid. The book delves into how that impacts both of them and their friendships with the rest of the group, and thereâ€™s a whole lot of stuff about online dating as well. The conversations between the friends seemed so real, and those group chats, ooof! Pick this up if youâ€™re in the market for a quick, fun read.
9| Of Blood & Bone by Nora Roberts (Kindle) – This was Book 2 of the Chronicles of The One series (Book 1 was Year One, which I read earlier in the year). While Year One was about Lana and Max and other survivors of the plague that wiped out most of the earthâ€™s population and how they rebuild a new society of magical and non-magical people, Of Blood & Bone is about their 14-year-old daughter and how she rises up and trains to be worthy of the title of The One. Between the two, I enjoyed Year One a lot more, mostly because the pacing was a lot more faster and the characters somehow better developed. I am still curious to see the end of this series though.
10| The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee (Kindle) – Again, totally influenced by Grace to pick this one up. Itâ€™s total brain candy, but a thoroughly enjoyable one at that. Itâ€™s set almost a 100 years into the future, where New York (and most other major cities) is now transformed into a 1000-story vertical city. Thereâ€™s a lot of cool, tech stuff happening, but the core story is about a few (mostly rich) high school students and how their loves and choices shape up their lives. Very Gossip Girl-esqe. The story begins with a bang, at the climax really â€“ a girl is dead and then it unravels the various threads of the entire story. The plot is fast paced and the characters are layered, each with a million and one problems of their own.
11| The Dazzling Heights by Katharine McGee (Kindle) – The main characters are all grown up, sobered in their own ways, and yet the drama doesnâ€™t cease. There is a lot of loving and a lot of blackmailing happening. The pace does not let up, and I was completely sucked into their world.
12| The Towering Sky by Katharine McGee (Kindle) – This one starts off with another death, and I thought this was probably the weakest story of the trilogy. The story becomes way more convoluted, there is one too many new character, and the unraveling of the mystery seems extremely convenient. The loose ends are tied up and despite the weak third book, I think the trilogy was entertaining enough on the whole. It makes for a light, fast-paced, absorbing read.
13| Honor by Elif Shafak (Kindle) – I know Elif Shafak is a much-loved author but this is the first book of hers that I have read. This book is a lot of things at once (not that it suffers on such account). It is a story of an immigrant family in a new land, it is a story of honour, as seen in a Muslim family in the 70s, it is a story about marriage and love and family and belonging, and finally, it a story about struggles and betrayals and loss and regret. The Toprak family moves to London in 1970, and after the father abandons the family, it falls on the eldest son, Iskender to protect the honor of the family. After he suspects that his mother is having an affair, he stabs her to death and the whole family unravels. There are lots of layered backstories, complex characters, and the stories are told from multiple viewpoints, which helps to reveal the larger picture. The ending is a bit of surprise and the build-up is wonderful. Great book on the whole and I am sure I will read more of her books.
14| Clock Dance by Anne Tyler (Kindle) – This was a sweet story of a 60 year old woman (Willa), who is unexpectedly called upon to take care of her sonâ€™s ex-girlfriendâ€™s daughter. Seems far-fetched, I know, but Anne Tyler weaves a deft tale, and just seems to get under the skin of her characters. Willa has mostly led her life with not much agency and for once when she takes an impulsive decision to go take care of someoneâ€™s 11-year-old daughter, she sets off a chain of events which prompt her to slowly, but surely, take life into her own hands, and stand up for herself. Nice enough story.
15| The Lost Vintage by Ann Mah (Kindle) – A little bit of history, a little bit of wine, a little bit of mystery, and whole lot of relationship stuff, this novel kinda has it all. Kate returns to her familyâ€™s ancestral vineyard in Burgundy to prepare for her last attempt at the Master of Wine exam and once there, she uncovers some old family possessions including a diary. She sets off to unravel family secrets, and in the process has to face some difficult questions in confronting her familyâ€™s past and its role during World War II. Ann Mah sets up the atmosphere beautifully, and there is enough heart in the story to make it an engrossing read.
16| Tell Me Lies by Carola Lovering (Kindle) – It took me a while to really get into the story, but it was just not worth it. Characters that I really didn’t like at all, and a story that I just didn’t feel invested in. Lucy and Stephen meet in college, fall in love and set off on a stormy and manipulative relationship. The story follows them into their post college life in New York and finally the past catches up with them, but the book just left me feeling very unsettled, and cheated (of a good story!), in a way. :)
18| The Shortest Way Home by Miriam Parker (Kindle) – Nothing earth shattering reading here, but a sweet tale of digging deep and finding yourself and making difficult choices en route to real happiness. Hannah is all set to join a high-paying job in Manhattan but on a romantic weekend getaway to Sonoma with her boyfriend, she gets offered a marketing job at a family run winery, and she accepts. This disruption to their planned future creates expected ripples in her relationship and the story then goes about how Hannah reconciles to her current choices and how in trying to save the winery from falling apart, she finds her own self.
19| The Lost Family by Jenna Blum (Kindle) – This is a beautiful story, one that looks at the aftermath of war, and its impact on the ones who survive. Peter Rashkin, a famous New York chef who runs his own restaurant, is an Auschwitz survivor, and is haunted by the memories of his wife and two younger daughters who did not make it. He eventually falls in love with June Bouquet, a young model, and despite finding a semblance of normal life with his new wife, the ghosts of his past loom like a shadow over him, his marriage and his new family. It is a moving story, told over three decades, and paints a complete picture of an anguished father and husband, and the devastating consequences of war.
20| This Could Hurt by Jillian Medoff (Kindle) – I really enjoyed this book. It’s set in New York in 2008 post the global financial crisis and covers the life of five colleagues in the HR department of Ellery Consumer Research as they try to come to terms with the changing demands of business. Led by Rosa Guerrero, an imposing powerhouse with a soft heart, the team is made up of flawed, yet relatable characters, and there is a certain level of realism in the way office politics and relationships are depicted.
2| Moonology by Yasmin Boland (Kindle) – This book was my introduction to the power of moon phases, and I loved that while the book is thorough and detailed, the language used is simple and easy to follow. I’ve set a few intentions on the new moon ever since reading the book, and I’ve definitely found some positive changes in my life since then.
3| The Archetype Diet by Dana James (Kindle) – I wish there wasn’t the word “diet” in the title of this book, because frankly, this book is way more than a diet manual. It delves deeper into personality types and there is more of a therapy angle here, probably even more than The Food Therapist. The food prescriptions for each archetype is well-detailed, and I think leans more towards mindful eating than a really strict diet. I am rereading this book right now, and trying to make changes into the way I approach healthy eating.
4| Slow: Simple Living for a Frantic World by Brooke McAlary (Kindle) – I really think that a lot of people in our generation are heading towards burnout central. It’s not just about our jobs but just the pace of everything, and the need to be forever connected, forever on. In that context, I think the messaging of Slow is useful and forces reflection. I like that the book does not necessarily define a singular way of “simple living” but instead, tries to provide tools and questions for us to figure out what that looks like for us. And of course, there are lots of tips and personal insights peppered throughout this beautiful book.
Phew, that was a long one. This post took me an unbelievable number of hours to write. Anyway, I hope you find some good books to read from this list, and I’d also love to hear about some of your favourite books from the last year! I am always up for new book recommendations, despite my current self-imposed ban. :)
Image via Unsplash / Fahrul Azmi.
Note: The post contains affiliate links. If you click on the main book titles, that will lead you to the Amazon US store, while the Kindle book links, will lead to the India store.